The first known inhabitants of the region, were the Sinkyone People. The Sinkyone people, and later the Wailaki People, had villages at Richardson Grove with about five or six lodges they occupied during the winter months, and they also had encampments at Benbow Campground, the East Branch of the Eel River, and Cooks Valley. The Native American People used this area, now known as Richardson Grove State Park, as a seasonal encampment for hunting, fishing, food gathering, and making beautiful baskets. The name of the village was pronounced Kahs’-cho-so-ring-i-be.
The Grove Preserved
The first recorded settler in the Richardson Grove area was Kentuckian Reuben Reed in 1865. Reuben Reed married a Wailaki lady named Nellie, a widow who’s former husband (Anderson) had accidently drowned in the South Fork of the Eel River. It was stated that Nellie Reed was loved by all and had her door open to welcome all who were passing by.
By the early 1900′s, Canadian immigrant Henry Devoy (and Wife Ella), who owned dairy farms and a hotel in Humboldt County, purchased the Reed’s land, which consisted of a larger property that included Devoy Redwood Grove, Richardson Grove, Hartsook Flat and Cooks Valley. Henry leased Richardson Grove to Ed Freeman (back then, it was called Henry Devoy Grove). Ed Freeman built a cookhouse, some cabins, and large platforms where huge tents were placed in the summer, for friends and family of the Devoy’s to come visit and cool off under the towering redwoods. By 1920, a store, a dining room and about 15 newer cabins had been built by Freeman, near the site of the main lodge.
Henry Devoy promoted the redwoods he so loved, by inviting family and friends from near and far to come in the summer to cool off under the giant redwoods at Richardson Grove, and to enjoy summer recreation activities, including swimming in the splendid and refreshing Eel River. The Devoy’s hired a cook and they hauled in supplies, in order to feed everyone. Before the first road was built through Richardson Grove (The Old Redwood Highway), the train was constructed. The Devoy grandchildren would take the railroad from Alameda to Eureka, as their dad was Superintendent and they got free tickets. After arriving on the train in Eureka, Henry & Ella Devoy and their grandchildren would go by automobile to Richardson Grove. The decedents of the Devoy family have continued to visit Richardson Grove through the years.
In 1922 the Save-the- Redwoods League, concerned about potential destruction of the trees by highway construction and logging, persuaded the State to acquire 120 acres of the redwood grove. Between 1922 and 1935, Freeman, who had been instrumental in naming the park after former California governor Friend W. Richardson, operated the new park as a concession. Today’s visitor center was built in 1931 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who later constructed the campgrounds, picnic facilities, trails, water systems and restrooms. Unfortunately, most of the CCC-built facilities were damaged or destroyed when the south fork of the Eel River overflowed in the floods of 1955 and 1964. Only the original visitor center remains.